As a co-founder of CAN in 1968, Holger Czukay’s role in the band was playing bass, engineering and recording and editing the hours and hours of spontaneous jams, then turning them into intriguing musical tapestries of rhythm and sound. Czukay left CAN around 1978, sometime after Rosco Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah (both from Traffic) joined the band, initially keeping a role editing sounds and then leaving and returning on the periphery. But after 1979 CAN didn’t work together for another 10 years and as CAN were winding down, Czukay was working on this groundbreaking album released in 1979.
With an interest in tinkering with radios as he worked in a repair shop as a young man and having studied for 3 years under avant-garde electronic and classical genius Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Czukay briefly worked as a music teacher and had little interest in rock music until a student played him I Am The Walrus. A light switched on in his head and he saw the potential for combining the avant-garde with Pop music. This album combines all these elements including meticulous editing with a razor blade on tape, pre-empting sampling when achieving results such as these wasn’t quite so easy. Add to this the elements of World Music, African guitars and rolling rhythms and you have what would become Czukay’s first masterpiece.
I was lucky enough to meet him one evening in a late night cafe in Cologne sometime in the middle of the eighties and he was the most gracious man. I had also seen CAN at the Liverpool Stadium around 1974 or 1975 so I was already an admirer by then. I have managed to collect many records by CAN and all the other members – Jaki Liebezeit is my favourite drummer.
The album opens with the eccentric, Cool In The Pool. It has an infectious danceability, Czukay singing and playing the French horn, meandering melodies, tremolos, Arabic short-wave radio edits, choppy guitars, cockerels, opera singers, speeded up voices, laughter, neighing horses, organ (c/0 Reebop) and the human drum machine, Jaki Liebezeit. An intoxicating mix of studio technology and the exotic, plucked from what must have been an extensive library of found sounds and snippets from various sources. The term “radio painting” has been coined by Czukay, but beyond that, seamlessly putting together such disparate elements with such a clear vision is a tribute to Czukay’s technical skills, his compositional abilities and his thinking outside the box.
On Oh Lord Give Us Money, the remaining original musical members of CAN join the project with Michael Karoli playing guitar and Irmin Schmidt on grand piano, amid the cartoon sound effects, the thunder, the barking dogs, the meows, the buzzing and the madman pleading for more money. A distinctly African feel pervades the track and an African, German groove is something to behold. Effortlessly bent and melodically rich at 14 minutes you can only wonder at the surging backwards guitars – it’s Mike Oldfield from Mars. When it ends you can’t believe it’s over already.
Persian Love has mystical Arabic samples, consisting of male and female voices and instrumentation – recorded onto tape from the radio then cut up and edited into the track. This leads to a unique mix of harmony treated guitar notes over an easy reggae rhythm. I read somewhere that Czukay had got into a physical fight with one of the new members of CAN over stealing the voices of the dead and using them in this way. I can’t remember if it was Rosco Gee or Rebop Kwaku Baah but superstitions obviously remained despite involvement with Western rock bands. (Reebop died of a brain haemorrhage whilst performing in Sweden in 1983).
The last track, Hollywood Symphony, I am unable to find online. At 15 minutes it’s a miracle of musical montage. Whether the rhythm starts or stops, whether it is upbeat, downbeat, melodic, discordant, complex or simple, it is a fascinating journey into sound structure and a new way of seeing. You just can’t stop listening, it’s captivating, it’s impossible to interrupt, it demands your attention. It’s like watching 10 televisions at the same time except somehow the story flows without any awkwardness – you can’t imagine how he dreamt it all up. It’s like a cake with a 1000 flavours and every time you take a bite you get a new sensation.
Before you know it, it’s gone and you can’t believe that 15 minutes just went by – time stands still when you listen to this record. Whenever I play Movies I feel the rush of excitement, knowing that all my senses will be stimulated – I can feel the music, see it, hear it, touch it and I can taste its exotic flavours. Holger Czukay feeds your brain, after hearing his records I want to write, go to an art gallery, tinker in the studio, read a book – this record is truly inspiring and wait for it – there are others.